Georgia arena football team will relocate to Florence

By: Andrew Boardwine, Morning News

FLORENCE, S.C. – Arena football will return to Florence for the first time since 2009. It’s in the form of the American Arena League champion, Atlanta Havoc.

Make that, when next season starts: The Carolina Havoc.

Havoc general manager Josh Resignalo, who confirmed the move to the Morning News on Thursday, said the team has signed a one-year lease with the Florence Center.

“Everything is done. I’ve got all the turf and everything moved there this past weekend,” said Resignalo, who was offensive coordinator last season but will also take over as coach after the team relocates to Florence. “Ultimately, they gave us a great deal as far as being a tenant there with our arena lease.”

The 2019 campaign will be the second overall for not only the Havoc but the league. It has a 12-game regular season, from March until June, with a two-game postseason.

The Florence Phantoms (2006-09) were the last arena team to play in Florence, winning the American Indoor Football Association championship in 2008. And in 2016, a South Carolina Ravens American Indoor Football League squad tried to gain traction in Florence. But it never came to fruition. The team is now in Charleston and part of the Supreme Indoor Football League.

The Havoc made their championship run with their home field being the Buford City Arena, in Buford, Ga.

Resignalo said the team had two other new sites to choose besides Florence: Little Rock, Ark., and Pensacola, Fla.

So why Florence?

“It’s strictly business,” Resignalo said. “They were talking about raising our rent. And going into the second year there in Buford, we had already paid quite a bit of money per game. It did not fit the business model for the owners.”

The team’s owner when last season started was former XFINITY and Truck Series driver Tim Viens. But Viens resigned midway through the season, leaving the ownership to Heath Tate, Kelli Powers and Chris Duffy. Those three remain the co-owners as the team moves to Florence.

“When the new owners assumed majority ownership of the team, they found that remaining in Buford was not necessarily the best business decision,” Resignalo said. “So for them to keep operating a team, they needed a better city to go to that’s more in line with their business model, and we felt Florence is that in all aspects for us.”

Resignalo also explained why the team agreed to just a one-year lease.

“We wanted a multiple-year lease,” Resignalo said. “But we want to get situated and make sure we’re all on the same page.”

Playing in Florence is also a treat for Resignalo, since he played against the Phantoms during the 2006 and ’07 seasons with teams based out of North Carolina. And he lives one state over.

“My home is right outside of Raleigh, N.C., in Garner,” Resignalo said. “So, it’s much closer for me to go to Florence than the other two cities we were looking at.”

The 2019 campaign will be Resignalo’s 13th overall in the league. After coaching the High Country Grizzlies in 2017, he resigned before the 2018 campaign and joined the Havoc under then-coach Gerald “Boo” Mitchell, a former Vanderbilt football star. Mitchell will remain an assistant at North Gwinnett High School, in Georgia.

Now that Resignalo will be the coach next season, as well as G.M., he thinks his team can quickly gain a lot of momentum.

“I think (being the league champion) will create a buzz in our favor in showing we’re not an expansion team,” he said. “A lot of our success in Atlanta came from the product we put on the field.”

And Resignalo thinks this team will make a bigger impact than the Phantoms did.

“It’s about our ownership group and the business model,” Resignalo said. “Arena football itself is entertainment. It’s about putting on a show, being involved with the community. On game day, it’s basically going to be a show, and then a football game breaks out.”

A youth arena football league and cheer team are among the team’s goals.

“We’d even like to start a reading program with the elementary schools,” Resignalo said. “We think if we can prove to the city and the Pee Dee area that we’re there for the right reasons, we’ll get the support we want.

“We won’t last without the support from the area.”

Company picks Florence location for computer-cooling products

By: Andrew Boardwine, Morning News

FLORENCE, S.C. — ARCTIC, an international company specializing in computer-cooling devices, will locate its first American venture in Quinby with plans to convert the former IGA building in the Quinby Plaza into a combination of warehouse and office space, officials told the Morning News on Thursday.

ARCTIC, headquartered in Hong Kong with operations in Germany, will use its new facility in Florence County to distribute products throughout the United States. Employees have been hired for warehouse and marketing positions with more set to be hired for sales positions.

Denise Stein, executive team leader for ARCTIC, said Florence County’s location made it the best choice for the company as it expanded its operations in the United States.

“We considered other locations on the East Coast that would have suited our needs, but we had a gut feeling that Florence County was the best fit for us, mostly because of the overwhelming support we received from every point of contact throughout this decision process,” Stein said in an announcement.

Florence County discovered ARCTIC last year at a Select USA Investment Summit, where Lauren Stanton, assistant director of the Florence County Economic Development Partnership, met with ARCTIC representatives. The Gould Business Incubator, proximity to ports and business-friendly climate were key factors in ARCTIC’s decision to locate in Florence County.

Joe W. King, executive director of the Florence County Economic Development Partnership, said the Gould Business Incubator was significant in the company’s decision to come to Florence.

“We met them last year in Maryland,” King said. “They felt comfortable in the community, and it was important for them to have a place like the Gould Business Incubator where they could get started right away.”

ARCTIC operations are taking place at the Gould Business Incubator until renovations are complete at the Quinby facility.

Peter Jankowski, branch and sales director for ARCTIC, said the company looks forward to growing in the United States through its new Florence County presence.

“We look forward to growing our U.S. presence and expanding our brand awareness,” Jankowski said. “The Gould Business Incubator offered us the chance to get started right away, which is a unique opportunity that helped set Florence County apart from other locations.”

For more information about ARCTIC or the various products it offers, visit

Family, art go together at new Florence framing shop

Andrew Boardwine, Morning News

FLORENCE, S.C. — Art and family have always been two of the top priorities for Troy Cottrill. Now, he gets the opportunity to work with both simultaneously.

Cottrill’s Landmark Art joined ambassadors from the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce Wednesday to hold a ribbon cutting to celebrate the new store.

Cottrill’s Landmark Art, at 1308 Celebration Blvd., is a family-owned custom frame shop and art gallery. The shop has now been open for a week.

The shop offers “view it before you buy it” technology in which the customers can scan their art piece or photo into a software program that will then allow them to drag and drop different frames and maps, showing them the finished product before they order it.

“We are able to frame and mat very quickly and get it back to the customer in a timely manner,” Cottrill said. “It was very important for us that prices were lower than that of what you’d normally pay and we wanted to offer the very best.”

In addition to framing and matting, the gallery showcases artwork from six artists, five of whom are local and one who is from Paris, France. Cottrill said he can also order other art pieces that may not be displayed in the gallery.

Cottrill, who was raised in Ohio, has lived in South Carolina for 19 years. As an artist, he specializes in pencil drawings of historical sites and other vintage objects. Cottrill said the idea to open a frame shop came when he and his wife, Melissa, started looking into buying their own art printers and framing equipment to avoid paying high costs when looking to sell and showcase their art.

“It was always a dream of mine to open a gallery and it just kind of evolved from there,” Cottrill said. “We began framing and printing on our own and started to do it for many other artists, as well.”

“My wife has been very involved with art,” Cottrill said. “This is definitely going to be family ran. My 23-year-old son will be one of our main framers. My wife is very techy and installed the software that we use to show our customers their product before they buy it. Our youngest is 10 years old and she is already looking forward to working here someday, but she made it clear that she will require a hefty salary.”

The store will be open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information, contact Cottrill’s Landmark Art at 843-799-0328, or visit its website at They can also be reached via e-mail at

Champion for Youth: Boys & Girls Club honoring local banker

FLORENCE, S.C. – Tom Ewart, an executive with First Reliance Bank in Florence, will be honored next month as the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Pee Dee Area’s 2018 Champion for Youth.

The 15th annual Champions For Youth Tribute in his honor is scheduled for Aug. 28 at The Waters Building at 135 S. Dargan St. in downtown Florence.

The event will begin with a reception at 6 p.m. The award presentation will start at 7 p.m.

Sponsorships range from the $10,000 Hall of Fame sponsorship (including 12 attendees and a Carolina Classic sponsorship) to a $250 Booster sponsorship for two attendees. Individual tickets also are available for $75. The evening also will include a special “heads or tails” contest.

A longtime community leader, Ewart serves several local and statewide organizations. These include ScienceSouth, the Pee Dee Regional Education Center, the (BGC) State Alliance, the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Pee Dee Area, the Eastern Carolina Community Foundation, the Florence Rotary Club and St. Luke Lutheran Church.

In addition to his community service, Ewart is the market president for First Reliance Bank. Previously he served in various roles throughout the banking community.

Ewart joins 14 previous Champions For Youth honorees: Rob Colones (2017), Buddy Brand (2016), Tammy Pawlowski (2015), Boys & Girls Club donors and supporters (2014), East Florence Mission (2013), Rev. Dr. William P. Diggs (2012), Darla Moore (2011), Ralph R. Porter Jr. (2010), Allie E. Brooks Jr. (2009), Richard C. Harrington (2008), Rep. James E. Clyburn (2007), Sen. Hugh K. Leatherman Sr. (2006), Luther F. Carter (2005) and Frank Avent (2004).

The Champions for Youth Tribute supports Boys & Girls Club programs that help thousands of children throughout the Pee Dee grow into productive adults. Attendance and financial contributions will help brighten the lives of some of our community’s most promising children. The Boys & Girls Clubs serve youth every day after school and all day on nonschool days and during the summer. Clubs provide a safe place where young people can learn and grow while helping them become productive citizens.

Call 843-662-1142 for more information, or register online at


More construction for downtown Florence: Splash pad and traffic circle coming

By: Rosalia Fodera, WPDE

Construction cones and signs have taken over downtown Florence.

“I think downtown has come a long way and it’s something that Florence really needed,” Myranda Clark said.

“We see that footprint of downtown expanding and hopefully that coincides with expansion of investment downtown and businesses and others,” Mayor Stephen Wukela said.

The city started street and sidewalk construction on West Evans Street and will continue it to Baroody Street, and North and South Dargan Streets.

“Brick the whole width it really gives you a sense of a wider sidewalk and of course those beds are redone,” Wukela said.

With the new hotel coming and more traffic expected, a traffic circle will go at the intersection of Baroody and East Evans Streets.

“Changing in the stripping of Baroody Street to allow for some more parking there and a bike lane,” Wukela said.

A pocket park with a splash pad is coming and Clark’s niece approves of it.

“I would totally use it. We really need one in Florence because a lot of them are in like Hartsville,” Emory Clark said.

“It’ll cool the area. It’ll sound nice. It’ll attract young and that’s something we’ve heard a lot and we feel that we really need to do to have some access to young children,” Wukela said.

The roughly $2 million project is funded with a TIF (tax increment financing) so there’s no additional cost to taxpayers.

“Tax dollars from the growth downtown funding improvements downtown,” Wukela said.

Myranda Clark is excited for all the changes.

“I think downtown is a great place for it’s very kid friendly very family friendly,” Clark said.

Mayor Wukela said the projects should all be completed by spring 2019.

Mayor Wukela said the plans for Baroody Street are designed, but construction won’t start until after the hotel is built.

Minister reflects on year as Florence Chamber chairman

By: Andrew Boardwine, Morning News

FLORENCE, S.C. — The Rev. Merritt Graves says he wants to be remembered a lot less for what he did and a lot more for what God did through him.

Graves, the pastor at Mt. Zion AME Church, served as the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce’s Board Chairman during the 2017-18 term.

During that time, Graves said, he was able to build valuable relationships.

“If you’re going to do anything in the community, you have to build relationships,” Graves said. “I got to meet a lot of different people as part of the chamber and on the chamber board that are just awesome. There are a lot of great people in the city of Florence and it gives you an opportunity to really get to know folk and for folk to get to know you.”

Graves was named to serve on the Chamber board by the nominating committee. During his time serving on the board, he was nominated to be the chairman-elect. That’s when he took over as the 2017-18 Chamber board chairman.

On Sunday, July 1, Graves rotated off as the chairman.

“When this all began, the individual who approached me was a person that I had a lot of respect for,” Graves said. “My membership with the chamber is going to remain. I love what they’re doing. They’re a great organization and I really like what they represent and what they’re trying to do for the community in Florence.”

Mike Miller, president of the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce, said Graves was able to help the chamber improve as a result of his leadership.

“Rev. Graves was a pleasure to work with,” Miller said. “The staff also enjoyed his input and backing throughout the year. It was clear he is a man of integrity and character. The chamber is better off today for having his influence and support. We will carry that inspiration forward into all of our programs and projects.”

Graves said serving with the Chamber is something he has enjoyed doing.

“You get to learn that, as people, we really aren’t as different as we think we are,” Graves said. “You get to tear down that keeps us from getting to know one another.”

Graves added that the success of the Chamber couldn’t be possible without its staff members.

“The Florence Chamber is great because of the staff they have there,” Graves said. “Mike Miller and his staff make being part of the Chamber easy. They carry out the mission of the Chamber and work hard every day. The Chamber can’t be what it is without the full-time staff there that put all of this together. They guide us and do an excellent job.”

Graves has been serving in the ministry for 30 years. He said that he served in the Pamplico area for 14 years before being moved to Mt. Zion AME Church in 2008.

He said he appreciates his family’s support and the sacrifice that they make serving in the ministry.

“It [ministry] was not something I sought to do, but was truly what I was called to do,” Graves said. “I believe that if you’re not called into ministry, you won’t be able to stay in ministry. While God does not always call those who are equipped, he equips those he calls. My family has been crucial to my ministry. They’ve always been supportive and there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing than pastoring.”

Graves said he will continue to pastor his church and work in the community through the ministries of his church. He also is excited about partnerships with other churches and organizations to make the city of Florence a better place.

“I want to be remembered for taking an active part in the community to better the lives for generations to come,” Graves said. “Not just me, not just any particular group, but for everybody. I’d like to think that I made a difference in the community through the things that I’m involved in for years down the road.”

Burger restaurant coming to Florence

By: Andrew Boardwine, Morning News

FLORENCE, S.C. — The folks who brought the Florence area Tubb’s Shrimp & Fish Co. and King Jefe Taco Bar are looking to bring another delicacy to local residents, this time in the form of an American burger.

Business partners Steve Toniolo, Kyle Hardee and Travis Miller told the Morning News that they plan to open Revival Burger, a quick-serve restaurant, specializing in Americana cuisine.

Toniolo said the new burger restaurant is an opportunity for the partners to give Florence something a little different.

“Our business model has always been to look at what other great cities have and see what Florence doesn’t currently have,” Toniolo said. “That’s how we got King Jefe. Lately, you’re seeing a lot of great burger QSRs [quick service restaurants] pop up, and Florence doesn’t really have many of those. We thought it was a great opportunity for us to deliver a home-grown version with our spin on it.”

Hardee said the partners are eyeing a September opening.

He said the location, at 846 S. Irby St. is in a place with a high traffic count and the building — which previously was a Bojangles’ — provides them with the perfect layout to have an efficient restaurant.

“It’s a big leap,” Hardee said. “We put everything on the line every time we do this. I can promise we’re going to deliver all the things about Tubb’s and King Jefe that the customer likes. One of the things that is missing in many QSRs is the service. Why shouldn’t there be a warm, Southern hospitality spin put on getting a burger? That’s what we’re going to try to provide: A unique Southern atmosphere with great service and great food.”

Toniolo echoed Hardee’s sentiments.

“It’s about creating a unique customer experience,” Toniolo said. “It’s not about the type of food that you’re serving, it’s about us delivering the best customer experience that we can. When we opened King Jefe, we learned things about the business that we didn’t know with Tubb’s. We were able to circle back and make Tubb’s better as a result. With the opening of Revival Burger, we’re going to be able to do the same thing. It’s really exciting for us.”

The restaurant will offer a variety of burgers with a special Revival house sauce and many other items, including hot dogs and chicken sandwiches. The partners said that they will create burgers using many of their unique products, including their pimento cheese and Tomato Bacon Jam that are both used at Tubb’s.

Hardee said Tubb’s is offering the Florence community a chance to try some of their burgers every Monday for lunch as part of “Moo Mondays.”

“We’ve used Tubb’s as our breeding grounds, not just for this, but for King Jefe, too,” Hardee said. “We sell a limited amount of burgers, and we sell out every Monday. We do the classic ‘Revival Burger,’ and we also do one of the signature burgers. Through that, we get to perfect our recipes and get feedback from our customers. It’s been widely received, and when people eat them, they say that this is the best burger they’ve ever had.”

Florence Chamber announces chairman, board changes

FLORENCE, S.C. – Mindy Taylor of Duke Energy is the new Chairman of the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce, which has announced seven new board members.

The changes take effect Sunday.

Each new member to the Board of Directors will serve a three-year term.

The new board members:

>> Starlee Alexander with State Farm Insurance.

>> Kyle Baxter with Carolinas Hospital System.

>> Annie Ham with McCall Farms.

>> Brian Nunn with HealthSouth.

>> Ray Reich with Florence Downtown Development Corporation.

>> Marie Saleeby with McLeod Health.

>> Mike Skarupa with PGBA.

Rev. Merritt Graves, the pastor at Mount Zion AME Church, will become the past chairman.

The chairman-elect is Ken Jackson with RE/MAX Professionals.

Keith Buckhouse with NBSC remains the treasurer.

New 2018-2019 executive committee members:

>> Chad Patterson with Raldex Hospitality Group as co-chair of member services.

>> Mark Buyck III with Willcox, Buyck & Williams, PA as co-chair of government affairs.

>> Bret Greer with Toledo Carolina as co-chair of budget and finance.

>> Bailey Dabney with the Morning News as chair of communications and marketing.

>> Debbie Hyler with The School Foundation as co-chair of communications and marketing.

>> Teressa Tabor with The Manor as co-chair of community and business development.

Returning executive committee members are Jamie Carsten, Tyron Jones, Robby Hill, Ed Hoffman, Paul Seward and Dr. Charlene Wages.

Chick-fil-A West Florence opens its doors

By: Andrew Boardwine, Morning News

FLORENCE, S.C. — The newly constructed Chick-fil-A West Florence restaurant opened its doors for the very first time Thursday morning.

One hundred people received free Chick-fil-A for a year, including dozens of campers who braved the heat, a short rain spell and the elements to camp outside the store 24 hours prior to the official opening.

Employees and executives from the restaurant, which previously was drive-thru only, joined ambassadors from the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce to celebrate the grand opening with a program, ribbon cutting and a ceremonial “first bite.”

Blake Pate, owner and operator of the store, said that the Chick-fil-A drive-thru opened 24 years ago, and for 23 of those years, they have waited for a dining room.

“I want to thank everybody that came out and everyone that has been really supportive throughout the community,” Pate said. “We’re happy to finally have that dining room and really excited to be here.”

Pate originally took over the Chick-fil-A inside the Magnolia Mall before transitioning to the drive-thru-only one at 2705 David H. McLeod Blvd two years ago. He said that the store added 35 more jobs, bringing the total number of employment to 105 at the new restaurant.

“We want to keep it simple,” Pate said. “We want to sell you good food and be really friendly while doing it. That’s our mission and our goal here at Chick-fil-A West Florence. We want to do exactly what [Chick-fil-A founder] Truett Cathy said: ‘To treat everyone with honor, dignity and respect’ and to serve you a great chicken sandwich at the same time.”

Nicole Hill, the marketing director of Chick-fil-A West Florence, said she was happy for the entire Pate family as their dream came true Thursday morning.

“For us, it’s been such a joyful experience,” Hill said. “A lot of us have been working with Blake when he was in the mall and followed him to drive-thru, but we knew the long-term plan was to build this store. It’s been his dream, and the fact that he gets to have something so new makes me extremely excited for him. He really is a people’s person. He wants to be able to get out of the office and into the dining room to interact with guests. I think having this new store is going to be amazing for him.”

Hill said the location right off the interstate will provide a good amount of volume for the store.

“With this particular location, we have so many people traveling through on the interstate that will get off and want to eat here,” Hill said. “If they want something a bit faster or if they have a really large family, they actually have a dining room to come and sit in together, which is awesome.”

Chick-fil-A West Florence will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday.